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Violence In Syria Persists Despite Arab League Resolution

Benjamin Gottlieb, Arezou Rezvani |
November 2, 2011 | 1:23 p.m. PDT

Senior News Editor & Staff Reporter

This week on Eye On The Middle East:

Syria's deal with an Arab League delegation tasked with finding a way to end months of bloodshed.   

This week's featured guest is Richard Reeves.

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Featured Song: "Ophelia's Dance" by Solace

Program run time: 17:15


Arezou Rezvani: Professor, great to have you on the program, thanks so much for joining us today.

Richard Reeves: I'm glad to be here.

AR: We're discussing the recent Arab League resolution calling on Syria to scale back its military campaign against its own people protesting the Bashar al-Assad government. What can we expect from the Arab League resolution?

RR: I think that particular piece of business is just talk. Bashar is not going to change his ways because of the Arab League, he's going to continue to react to whatever is happening in the country. And I would imagine he's under great pressure and the reason I say that I realize why military dictatorships or military dictatorships resist falling-- it's that you got the guys on top who started this, and in al-Assad's case it was his father, but there are all these general and kernels and businessmen and what not who are all part of it and they're waiting for the old guys to leave so they can take over and get theirs. So, it's not just one man falling that changes a country and in Syria the roots are power are very deep. There are 28-year-old lieutenants there who are counting on getting a small estate or something out of their service to al-Assad and they're the ones who put pressure on the guy on top not to go to the French Riviera or back to London. 

AR: Can we talk a little bit about this guy on top? Who is Bashar al-Assad?

RR: Well, he's an accident. His father was the head of the air force and was very smart and seized power in 1970 and died, what, five years ago? He held military power despite one military defeat after another, particularly at the hands of Israel, but just maintained power the same way I think Bashar will try to maintain power. He was not the selected leader, his brother who died in an accident was and he [Bashar] was an optometrist in London and everybody thought when he came in, I think it was 2000, everyone thought when he came in you know the guy is a half Westerner. He knows business a little and he's going to open up things. well, that didn't happen and what's happening now, you know the old axiom that revolutions don't begin when things are worst, they begin at the first openings of reform when they suddenly realized there's a chance to get out from under. And the other thing about Assad and looking at the military history of Syria, he has an army of 200,000. But like many of these armies, and this is true too with Pakistan, many of these armies are not designed for fight people, they're designed to control people. I mean, the Syrian army is like a high-tech, highly trained security police force. Their real enemy is the people of Syria. And that's what they know how to do.

Benjamin Gottlieb: Professor, the United States reiterated its stance calling for President Assad to step down. What do you think about U.S. policy toward Syria?

RR: I think two things: That that is about as far as the president can go right now that we are stretched all over the world, but I have no doubt that we are involved in the one thing that Bashar must fear most , that is that we probably are quietly…I'd be stunned if we are not quietly helping Turkey go after them. And Turkey, which is much bigger, much stronger and could use some help from the U.S., I think we're probably in there, but we can't invade another country. We just don't have enough people. 

BG: And do you think you could characterize Obama's foreign policy as a continuation of Bush-era policies, especially given what we saw in Libya?

RR: Bush had those policies but he never used them effectively. I mean he went into two wars and lost them both but I think that it's partly an extension of the Bush foreign policy, particularly in Afghanistan. Obama had been agains the war in Iraq, so when he was running for President he had to show he was tough so it was Afghanistan he got tough on and continued the Bush policy there. But it didn't work for Bush and it's certainly not going to work for Obama, either. 

AR: AIPAC seems to have played a pretty prominent role in formulating U.S. foreign policy and I'm wondering what you think about AIPAC's role in Obama's policy formation.

RR: I'm sure they played a prominent role. I mean, they're one of the most effective lobbies the country has ever seen and also, you know, these guys know how to play the game. There is a feeling that American Jews are moving to the right and Obama can't let that happen. The financing of democratic politics is largely Jewish, so they can let Netanyahu come around, promise to do things and promise to do the exact opposite the same day, they can try to humiliate us by trying to announce new settlements while Hilary Clinton is in Tel Aviv. Yeah, they're a major factor in Obama's thinking, I'm sure. You know, I think Obama is completely committed to Israel. It's just that because of where he came from with his mixed heritage that people thought he was going to be more friendly toward Palestine. I'm sure he'd like to be but AIPAC is one of the reasons he can't be. 

BG: So Professor, what do you see for the future of U.S. involvement in Syria?

AR: And maybe even the Middle East more broadly.

RR: You know what I think we're doing? We're moving our bases around. We're going to keep our presence in that part of the world because of Israel and because of the oil and the shake up is going to mean that some bases are going to have to be moved say from, well, Iraq and say from Bahrain. We are going to stay there and watch as there are more and more Palestinians and Israel is forced into a two-state policy because it would become not an Israeli democracy but an Arab democracy and we're going to watch that process, we're going to help Israel as much as we can and we're going to try to maintain relationships with the Palestinians. The effect, again AIPAC and other Jewish-American organizations. It's that thing that the American congress is more pro-Israel than the Knesset. But that's what's going to happen. One scenario would be if Syria to move outside its borders because between Turkey and Israel the only people they can beat at anything is Lebanon and so they are…I mean, they may think he's doing pretty good right now, they're between a lot of rocks and hard places. I don't think for 5 years Americans will take the field again. Maybe five years from now people have forgotten some things, there would be a joint American-Israeli move on Syria if it hasn't changed by then. Hopefully it would have changed by then.

AR: Professor Reeves, thanks so much for joining us today.

AI: Thanks, it was fun guys.


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